• The Menstrual Isolation Room is a Spa!
    Minne Atairu

Thomas Northcote, "1011b location: Ubiaja; associations: self decoration," ca. 1909. Photograph. Courtesy Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, Cambridge University

In Benin Kingdom—a precolonial empire on the West African coast—menstruation was treated as a ritual period of seclusion, and respite from everyday chores. To facilitate this practice, special isolation rooms were built into the rear end of impluvium-style family residences. These spaces were accessed through non-descript entrances and equipped with a range of menstrual care products and tools. Much of the architecture is lost to time, but surviving fragments and anecdotal evidence suggest that these rooms were deliberately designed to provide women with a private, spatial refuge for self-care. As such, this research surmises that the menstrual isolation room is a Spa—a place where a woman, fatigued by the daily rigors of life, retreated for rejuvenation and rest. Through oral history interviews, this research documents the cultural, and spatial qualities of the menstrual isolation room, and its relationships to the kingdom’s classical artistic traditions—the Benin Bronzes.

Minne Atairu is an interdisciplinary artist whose research-based practice seeks to reclaim the obscured histories of Benin Bronzes. Utilizing generative artificial intelligence (GenAI) and additive fabrication, Atairu reassembles visual, sonic, and textual fragments into conceptual works that engage with repatriation-related questions. Atairu has exhibited and performed at the Harvard Art Museums, Boston (2022); Markk Museum, Hamburg (2021); SOAS Brunei Gallery University of London, London (2022); Microscope Gallery, New York (2022); and Fleming Museum of Art, Vermont (2021). She is the recipient of the 2021 Lumen Prize for Art and Technology (Global Majority Award).